Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Player Contracts +

Some interesting objections came up to the Player Contracts concept that deserve a response.

BoberFett wrote:
I like the idea, I've given the contract system some thought myself. The biggest hurdle to overcome is not the punishment system (in my eyes anyway) but how the system decides whether or not the terms have been met. I'll just use your ideas.

  • Exchange (swap goods for goods or goods for money)
If I am contracted to make somebody a weapon, I can give them a weapon back with any stats I want. They hand me Krayt tissue and I give them back a 150 max damage scout, as far as the sytem is concerned I fulfilled my end of the bargain. The buyer on the other hand will want to report me to a CSR for arbitration.
One of the features I mentioned in my original Player Contracts design document was that each contract type would have terms that were specific to it. It's these terms that will allow players to specify what will and what won't satisfy them, so the terms available for any contract type have to be ones that let players verify that they're really getting what they want.

In this Exchange example, the terms would have to allow the potential buyer to specify the values of the features of the item being requested. In the case of a weapon, I'd want to be able to specific minimum and maximum damage values, wound values, range values, encumbrance values -- basically any numeric feature of the item being requested.

When contracts allow sufficiently specific terms (as my proposal recommends), contract resolution can work because players will have the power to get what they really want.

Note that this is even more likely to work well for one-time, immediate Exchange contracts which, as I noted, are basically our current Secure Trade. In this kind of contract, you could actually /examine the object to see if it's what you really want. We can't do any better than this currently, so it's hard to see how doing it as a contract is any worse!

BoberFett wrote:
  • Transport (move items [or player characters] to a specified location)
How does the system decide when the trip is complete? If somebody wants me to fly them from Mos Eisley to Endor, what happens if I drop off a second passenger at Moenia on the way? Does it wait for me to continue on to Endor? Does it consider me in breach even if I do eventually get them to Endor?
The thing to realize here is that the functionality to accomplish Transport missions already exists: it's the code that "knows" when you've come within a certain distance of a specific waypoint.

The system would know the trip was complete when you landed at the designated spaceport and your passenger exited your ship. Since Transport contracts could be specified as simply as "take me to X spaceport," or could include a "by such-and-such time" clause, as long as you get your passengers where they want to go -- as specified in the contract that each ones signs with you -- then there's no problem.

If you accept a contract to take someone somewhere by a specific time, and you don't make it in time, that's not a flaw in the system -- that's you having made a bad business decision.

BoberFett wrote:
  • Heal (heal wounds or cure diseases of a specified living target)
What if while in the middle of healing, the party who is being healed is attacked and killed. Is the other party who agreed to do the healing in breach?
1. Remember that it's not necessary to have a penalty for breach of contract. In that case, it wouldn't matter if either party died before the requested healing was completed.

2. Since a one-shot heal is pretty trivial, most healing contracts would probably be on a recurring basis -- either for a set number of heals, or for a set number of pool points healed, or for healing any number of points for a certain amount of time. (Curing diseases would work the same way.) In this case, either character dying wouldn't have anything to do with breaching the contract. Cancelling one's character would, however; in this case the character who was deleted would be the one considered in breach.

3. If despite all this either party died in the middle of a one-shot heal with penalty, then we have to look at why the contract couldn't be fulfilled. If the healer tries to fulfill his end but can't (because the recipient is dead), then that's not his fault -- the dead character should get penalized (in addition to dying, which seems harsh, but then he didn't have to ask for a penalty for breaking the contract). If on the other hand the healer has the capability to complete the agreed healing but doesn't, then in that case it would be the healer who has broken the contract and should be penalized.

The point in all this is to further emphasize how important it is for the contract system to be detailed enough that players can specify the terms they really want in any contract type. If that's done, and if the code that monitors game events works properly (a big "if," I freely admit), then contracts could work.

BoberFett wrote:
  • Obtain (take possession of a specified item)
How do you determine which object is the one you want? By name? By serial number? Couldn't somebody pull a bait and switch?
1. Objects have semi-unique serial numbers. (Exact duplicates can have the same serial number.) This provides a secure way of identifying specific objects that the game system can use to ensure the secure transfer of items.

2. Objects have properties. If you're offered an item, you have the ability to examine it, and the contract system has the ability to test numeric properties against contract terms. If the item offered is not equal to or better than what you specified you wanted, you don't have to accept it... and the contract system doesn't have to, either.

BoberFett wrote:
These are just off the top of my head. The systems required to handle the exceptions possible in all of these scenarios would end up dwarfing the combat system. It's taken them how long to get around to a combat balance? I wouldn't expect a contract system like you're discussing for a loooong time.
I don't pretend that any contract system would be perfect. Even if every property of an object was a specifiable term of a contract, there'd still be features that players would want added.

But I do think that a contract system that was designed so that most (if not all) object properties were available as player-specifiable contract terms would handle most of the cases in which exceptions could occur.

Trivial to design and code? No. This would be a significant effort -- not as much as for the Space Expansion, but several months of labor by two or three developers at least. And then it would have to be exhaustively playtested to squeeze out the bugs. But I also think the result would be worth this investment. Just imagine the possibilities for player interaction if we could offer each other missions....

BoberFett wrote:
I agree a system like this would be loads of fun and add a lot of immersion and community building to the game. I just don't see it as feasible. There's a reason contract law is a massive industry consisting of an army of attorneys, and not is not run by a computer program. The human element to contracts is far too unpredictable.
Understood, and no offense taken. I happen to come to a different conclusion, but your points about the difficulty of getting something like this right are well-founded.

I would only suggest that a game-run contract system actually has an important advantage over a RL contract system: freedom of action in the game world is much more constrained.

In RL you can write a contract to do anything (legal). Trying to write rules to reflect this apparently infinite breadth of human action is both the source of economic productivity and legal wrangling.

In a computer game, however, you have to spell out specific contract types and terms. This means you don't get all the economic advantages in a game because you're excluding economic activity that's not allowed by your contract types. But it also means that you don't get all the questions of interpretation of RL contracts. And when interpretation isn't a factor, you don't need judges or lawyers.

By constraining contracts to numerically-verifiable terms, you create a system that a perfectly impartial adjudicator (the computer) can successfully resolve.

That's why I remain optimistic about a computer game with contracts. You're absolutely right that it won't be easy to implement well, but "hard" doesn't necessarily imply "practically impossible." Given a good design, and a careful implementation of a contract resolution engine, I think this could work.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

SWG: Crafting -- A Blueprint for the Future +

As usual, I've been a little wordy in my initial presentation. So let me summarize what I'm after when I ask for crafting to focus more on process than on result.

1. Craftable objects ought to have more properties.

All objects ought to have variable color, size, and shape, and various types of objects should have additional properties relevant to their purpose. To list just a very few examples of additional properties:

  • Weapons:
    • alternate fire modes
    • concealability
    • bonuses against certain mob types
  • Armor:
    • strengths/weaknesses against certain damage types
    • concealability
    • special powers (perhaps with charges)
  • Musical Instruments:
    • alternate tunings
    • reverb/sustain/chorus/tremolo/pitch bend
    • visual effects timed to current music
  • Vehicles:
    • speed shifters
    • climb rate shifters
    • turn shifters
  • Survey Devices:
    • range vs. resolution tradeoffs
    • droid interfaces
    • automatic modes
Foods, droids, starships, and all other types of crafted objects should have similar extended properties.

2. Resource types and subcomponent configurations should determine the properties of crafted objects.

Food created with rice should be different somehow than food created with wheat; food created with Lokian wheat should be different somehow from food made with Nabooian wheat; food produced with domesticated wheat should differ from food produced with wild wheat, and so on. Igneous ores and sedimentary ores should result in objects with different final properties, as should using Copper versus Aluminum in a schematic that simply calls for a Non-Ferrous Metal. Maybe different materials just change the color of the final object, or its size, but the materials used to build an object need to be reflected somehow in that object.

In more complicated objects, the way that subcomponents are connected to each other should determine other types of properties that those complex crafted objects have. "Configuring" subcomponents could be as simple as clicking to draw a line between any of the subcomponents. Or it could be as intricate as offering a certain number of "bonds" (like molecular bonds) per object (perhaps derived from the complexity of the object) -- you could choose to link all subcomponents in a "ring" pattern, or join all subcomponents to a central subcomponent in a "star" pattern, or join just a few subcomponents using double bonds, and so on. Or perhaps you click on the name of a pattern and the schematic's subcomponents are connected automatically. In any case, the specific configuration chosen by the crafter should dictate what properties the final crafted object has.

As a final feature, let experimental modes also be determined by the types of resources and configuration of subcomponents. Maybe some resources let you experiment on durability while others don't, but those others instead let you experiment on damage capabilities. This would give the developers what they were looking for in the aborted Publish 7 crafting change (to prevent crafters from maxing out all an object's experimental properties), while still allowing players to decide what experimental features they want in an object by letting them choose what resources and subcomponent configurations they want to use in crafting that object.

3. The numeric quality level of resources and subcomponents should determine the highest level to which a crafted object can be experimented.

If the value of an object's Experimental Durability is determined by a resource's Shock Resistance value, then using a resource with the maximum SR value of 1000 should result in the maximum number of experimentation points available to spend on improving the final object's Durability.

(This is how crafting works now. It's good, and doesn't need to be changed. I mention it here only to make it clear that the types of resources used should determine the types of properties of the final object, while the quality of the resources used should determine the amount to which the final object has those properties.)

4. Critical fails should be balanced by critical successes.

A critical success on assembly should leave most or all resources in the schematic after construction, just as a critical failure destroys resources and subcomponents. (Architect schematics would be exempt from the effects of critical failures and critical successes.)

A critical success on experimentation should improve the property being experimented on to levels beyond the normal caps (which are determined by resource quality & subcomponent effectiveness values).

Critical success rates should be held to no more than 1%. Critical successes should be frequent enough to motivate crafting, but rare enough to discourage grinding.

[2005/03/30: A "critical success" feature like the one suggested here may now be part of crafting.]


I hope this clarifies what I'd like crafting to become. Again, my goal is to find ways to make it more fun by moving the focus away from just achieving some result (which promotes mindless grinding) and toward a more interesting process.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

SWG: Crafting -- A Blueprint for the Future

I've been a crafter since SWG was released. In addition to mastering the Artisan and Merchant professions, I've picked up and used Novice-or-better skills from all the advanced crafting professions branching from the Engineering discipline. I've enjoyed crafting, but for a while now something has been bothering me about crafting in SWG. I think I've been able to put my finger on what it is: there's no surprise.


The design of the crafting system in SWG is highly result-oriented, rather than being process-oriented. In other words, the point is what you get at the end of crafting, rather than the act of crafting itself. That's good for making sure that other players have the things they need, but it can leave crafters feeling a bit like mere cogs in a product distribution machine.

Other than being a bit boring, there's nothing really wrong with crafting's result-oriented design. There are actually a number of good ideas well implemented. The idea of schematics is good. The concept of needing different kinds of resources and subcomponents in schematics is good. The concept of resources having different attributes that condition the effectiveness of the final product is good. And the concept of experimentation is good.

But something is missing. The design focus on results over process has left the act of crafting an exercise in grinding, rather than allowing crafting to be something that's fun in its own right because the process itself is interesting. If I may suggest the source of this problem: the assembly and experimentation steps are too simple to allow for surprise.

What makes engineering (more specifically, "invention") fun in the real world is that you don't always know exactly what you're going to get. The behavior of complex objects isn't normally a pass/fail, perfect/junk kind of thing (as in SWG) -- complex real-world objects often live in a gray area of functionality. When you put many odd-shaped things together in different ways, when you try new kinds of parts as subcomponents, it's hard to know precisely how the final object will look or act. Real-world objects demonstrate unpredictable and even surprising behaviors precisely because they are complex. This element of surprise is what makes real-world "crafting" an interesting and fun process.

But there's no chance of anything interesting happening when assembling or experimenting on an item in SWG because you always know exactly what you're going to get. With a few exceptions (certain armor and weapon schematics can take an optional component), you always assemble the same components in the same amounts, and they always go together in exactly the same way. As for experimentation, the only question is whether you'll have to craft your prototype for practice XP because one of your experiments yielded a result less than "great success." This player focus on only accepting "perfect" products is the natural result of a crafting design that's focused on results for other players instead of being a fun process for the crafters themselves.

But what if not getting exactly what you wanted didn't always mean that the result was unusable? What if not all surprises were bad (as they are now with critical fails)? In short, what if you could have "interesting failures?"


There are four changes I'd like to see made to crafting in order to allow for surprise, and thus for a crafting experience that's a lot more fun:

  1. Complex objects should have multiple appearance and performance characteristics beyond simple numeric attributes.
  2. The attributes of the resources used to craft an object should be reflected in the appearance and/or performance of the final product.
  3. The configuration of subcomponents should be reflected in the appearance and/or performance of the final product.
  4. Critical failures in experimentation should be balanced by critical successes.
Let's look at each of these suggestions in more detail to see how it would help contribute to a more interesting and satisfying crafting experience.



If every instance of a particular crafted object looks and acts the same way, surprise is impossible. This isn't always a bad thing -- you wouldn't want significant variation in products manufactured by a factory, for example.

But constructed objects need to have a wide variety of appearance and performance characteristics if variation in materials and processes are to allow for surprising results. If an object always looks the same and always has the same operational characteristics, then what's the point of making such an object except to have one? Where's the joy in the process of creating the item?

The three most common appearance characteristics are color, shape, and size. Clothing is allowed color customization options (and Tailors are given more color customization options than Artisans) because it's understood that making clothing (which doesn't allow experimentation) would be incredibly boring otherwise. Another example of appearance customization is a pistol whose scope and stock have been selected from a list of optional types, and which displays those selected scope and stock types when the crafted pistol is examined. And of course we now have basic (frame and trim) customization kits for droids and vehicles.

These options should be extended to many more items. Objects should be capable of having different colors; they should be craftable in a range of sizes; their shapes should be allowed to vary in well-defined ways.

For example, consider a simple object: a staff. Why must all staves be the same length? And why brown? Sure, trees on Earth have brown wood... but we're not on Earth! Similarly, why should even more complex objects all look the same? Must the engines always be in the same place on a landspeeder? Why are there only about ten types of house plans in the entire galaxy?

As for performance characteristics, these include the obvious ones -- min and max damage, range-based to-hit modifiers, and attack speed for weapons, for example, as well as other purely numeric attributes -- but objects have other features that should be variable.

Consider ranged weapons: when you fire them, they have a visual effect (such as a blaster bolt) and they make a sound. What if these effects could vary? Maybe blaster bolts can come in different colors (like lightsabers). Maybe the sound effect can be pitched differently, or perhaps it has a different duration. You wouldn't want to allow too much variety in these attributes since they're considered defining features for those objects. But some reasonable variation should be possible.

Other performance characteristics that should vary between objects include: bonuses or weaknesses versus certain mobs or classes of mobs; special behaviors in certain environments (desert, forest, water, nighttime); alternate-fire modes (for some weapons); vehicle top speeds, turn rates, and acceleration rates; droid intelligence and loyalty; and so on.


Once you've established that objects can have many different kinds of varying features, you need a way to relate those features to the materials used to construct objects.

The good news is that we're already partway to achieving this because the resource system already allows a great deal of variation. For example, there are several types of Mineral (Metal, Ore, Radioactives); two types of Metal (Ferrous and Non-Ferrous); two types of Non-Ferrous Metal (Aluminum and Copper); several types of Copper (Mythra, Platinite, etc.); and several places (Lok, Naboo, etc.) where you can get that kind of Copper. All these attributes could contribute to the qualities of the final product creating using them.

Let's use the staff again as our example. It's made out of wood (like witches), but that wood can be of three types, and can come from any planet. That's thirty different types of wood right there! Why shouldn't the type of wood used contribute to the performance of the staff, and to its appearance? Let's assume that the basic numeric attributes don't vary (since otherwise we'd have people complaining "I can't make staffs!" because the "best" wood currently has lousy stats).

Maybe wood from Lok causes staves to be tinted green. Maybe deciduous wood does extra kinetic damage because it's harder than evergreen or coniferous wood, but this also makes staves made from deciduous wood decay much faster than those made from evergreen or coniferous wood. Maybe Endorian Evergreen Wood has minerals in it that make it particularly effective against any kind of spider. Maybe objects crafted from coniferous wood from Yavin IV glow in the dark.

See how this works? Crafting currently doesn't make nearly enough use of resource attributes in determining properties of the final product... but it could.


For more complex objects which include subcomponents, appearance and performance characteristics should be related to how the crafter chooses to connect these component parts to each other.

In the current system you make a bunch of similar subcomponents, then another set of other similar subcomponents, then a few more subcomponents, then you take them all and, with some raw resources, lay them out flat on a table, hit the "assemble" button, and hey presto!, you've built an item. (Assuming you don't get a critical fail on assembly.) While this does at least recognize that complex items tend to be built from subcomponents, it doesn't recognize the importance of allowing crafters to vary the organization of those subcomponents.

As a variation on the above scenario, suppose instead that you craft four similar subcomponents. When you lay them out to construct the larger item that is composed of these pieces, you get to choose how you want those pieces to be connected to each other. (I imagine the crafting tool GUI letting you click to draw lines between subcomponents to indicate configuration connections.) One configuration might improve the final item's durability at the cost of some of its power; another might give you the same type of item but one that's brittle but very effective; a third configuration might give you mediocre performance attributes but some kind of additional special power.

For very complex products that require many different subcomponents, you should have numerous options for how to interconnect the pieces -- so many, in fact, that it's effectively impossible to predict the exact final qualities of the finished assembled object.

There should still be some predictability in this process. Making two complex objects with the same configuration of subcomponents should yield two items with similar appearance and performance characteristics. But where the artisan has choices for how the subcomponents of a complex object can fit together, those choices should affect the features of the finished component.


As a final suggestion, if critical failures -- either in assembly or experimentation -- can ruin a crafted object, shouldn't critical successes also be possible?

Just as a critical failure is an "I don't know what I did wrong!" situation, a critical success would represent the rare "I don't know how I did it but WOW!" situation. To allow only horrible results is both unrealistic and not "fair" in a game context.

There are two obvious ways to reflect critical success situations. I propose that each of these two possibilities be implemented, one for the assembly phase, and one for experimentation.

(In the discussion that follows, please note that a critical success is not the same thing as an "amazing success" result any more than a critical failure is the same thing as a "moderate failure" result. "Critical success" should either be a new result type, or the "amazing success" result type should be enhanced in the ways described here.)

In the assembly phase, just as a critical failure results in the complete loss of all resources and subcomponents, a critical success should result in the crafting of the desired item without using up any resources or components. The risk of losing all materials (in a critical failure) should be balanced by the potential reward of getting to keep all your materials (in a critical success). (Note that this would not apply to Architect-only schematics since these are no longer subject to the threat of loss in a critical failure. Just as Architect objects aren't subject to the risk of loss, they should always be used up no matter what the result of assembly.)

The obvious result of a critical success in the experimentation phase should be object performance that is better than would normally be possible. The features improved should only be those on which experimentation points were spent, and performance should only be improved proportional to the number of experimentation points spent.

One potential problem with this enhancement would be that some individuals with excessive free time and plenty of patience might be inclined to try to make all their objects "perfect" with critical successes on all experimentation attempts. This is unlikely to be effective for several reasons.

First, the percentage rate of critical successes should be about 1% for everyone. (This would still favor Master crafters, since they have more experimentation points to spend than other crafters.) A 1% critical success rate would make these events sufficiently rare that someone who wants to craft only perfect items would only be able to create perhaps two or three such items per day. Given how good these items would be, how in demand they would be, and how much money high-end players have, a crafter would not be able to keep such items stocked (nor any other items if he spends all his time trying to craft perfect items!), not even if he could craft 24/7 with macros that somehow knew how to keep only perfect items.

Second, the maximum possible improvement would only be possible by either using up all your experimentation points in one burst and getting a critical success on that attempt, or by getting a critical success result for each and every experiment attempt. In the former case, a 1% success rate would mean harvesting resources and crafting subcomponents only to destroy all of them 99 times for every one "perfect" item created. The cost of doing this (particularly for very high-end items) would likely not be recoverable through the sale of the one perfect item. As for trying to use experimentation points separately, a 1% critical success rate and 10 or more experimentation points to spend makes getting 10 critical successes in a row not very likely.

Overall, implementing critical successes would be one more way to allow the rare and pleasant surprises that make crafting fun.

[2005/03/30: It's come to my attention that critical success results, while rare, are now possible. It's probably not implemented in the way I've described it above, but any progress here is appreciated!]


By offering variability in crafted object features, by allowing crafters to have lots of choices in resource usage and subcomponent configurations, and by making those choices have different results in finished products, you take the focus off of repeatedly grinding out the same thing over and over again, and move the focus to letting crafters make creative decisions that help to differentiate their products from those of other crafters. That would be tons more fun for crafters, plus product differentiation would help them market the products they create, plus it would allow the people who buy these items to better define their characters by having distinctive possessions.

When crafters are able to express their creativity as an integral part of the crafting process, everybody wins.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

SWG: Pazaak

I finally broke down and paid the bucks for Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR). It turns out to be such a good game that I'd like to suggest that SWG implement the KOTOR minigame Pazaak as quickly as possible. This minigame is just too much fun, too good a fit into the Star Wars universe, and too useful as a new SWG feature. (For example, it would help prove that "content" doesn't just mean "dungeons." Ahem.)

For those who haven't yet played KOTOR, this is a card game between two players. The general rules for Pazaak are roughly as follows:

  • cards in the standard deck are numbered 1 through 10

  • the deck can be considered infinite (there are always more cards)

  • players agree to wager some amount of cash before a match begins

  • matches consist of three sets

  • to play a set:

    • players begin taking turns turning over one deck card each

    • the value of a deck card turned over is added to that player's point total

    • (for SWG, the player who goes first in a set should be randomly selected)

    • each player may optionally play a private "hand card" (added to that player's total)

    • each player starts a match with four hand cards from a personal side deck

    • when a hand card is played, it is gone for the remainder of the match

    • after taking a deck card (and possibly a hand card), each player must choose to:

      • "end turn" (agree to take another deck card next turn)

      • "stand" (take no more deck or hand cards for the rest of the set)

    • if a player ever has 20 points showing, he automatically stands

    • players continue taking turns until one of the following happens:

      • one player stands or ends a turn with 21 or more points

        • the other player wins the set

      • both players stand

        • the player with more points showing wins the set

        • if both players are tied, another set is started and played

  • the first player to win three sets wins the match and play ends
This by itself would be interesting, but there are a couple of clever twists.

First of all, you carry your own personal Pazaak cards as inventory items. When a Pazaak match starts, you choose ten of your personal cards for a side deck, out of which four cards are randomly chosen as your hand cards (which the other player can't see). When you start playing KOTOR you have ten personal cards to choose from -- 2 each of cards valued at 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. So you start with all ten of these cards as your side deck, out of which the game might randomly choose 1, 3, 3, and 4 as hand cards for use during a match.

The second twist (which really gives Pazaak its flavor) is that you can add new personal cards to your inventory that have negative numbers. Having a hand card with negative points means that if you go over 20 you can play one of these negative cards and go back to 20 or less, allowing you to stay in the game.

For example, let's say I've got a hand card of -2. I'm currently showing 14 points, and I turn over a deck card. It's an eight, which gives me a total of 22 points. If I stand now, the other player will win because I've got 21 or more points showing. Instead, I additionally play my -2 hand card -- this brings my total back down to 20, allowing me to stay in the set (and possibly win it).

Even better than negative cards are some cards which let you choose whether their numeric value is positive or negative when you play it. In this way a card that's plus-or-minus-2 could get you to 20 whether you have 18 or 22 showing. Part of your goal in being a Pazaak player is to build a side deck consisting of nothing but plus/minus cards.

BUT... you don't start KOTOR with these negative or plus/minus cards -- you have to find these cards to add them to your inventory. Then you can gradually replace the cards in your starting side with these improved cards. They turn up as loot, or in various containers, or can be bought from various vendors.

The tactics of Pazaak thus lie in knowing:

  • which cards to choose for the ten in your side deck

  • when to stand vs. when to turn over another card

  • when to play one of the four cards in your private deck
It seems to me that this mini-game would make an excellent addition to SWG. It's already part of the Star Wars canon; it's already part of the LucasArts franchise (so no ownership issues); it would be another way for players to interact; it could move large quantities of money around (especially if no hard limit was set on wagers ;-); and Pazaak cards would make great loot as long as they remained sufficiently rare.

[2008/05/16: If a new MMORPG set in the KOTOR era of the Star Wars universe is really being made by LucasArts and BioWare, then having Pazaak as a minigame in that MMORPG makes even more sense, considering it was BioWare who created Pazaak for KOTOR!]

Monday, April 12, 2004

SWG: Jump to Lightspeed: Space Commerce +

Draconicius wrote:
how about a galactic space mall that travels. In this ship/station (whatever you wanna call it) players can rent a space to drop a merchant in a designated area.
I love this concept.

Theoretically, if you can have multiplayer starships you could put darn near anything in space -- why not a traveling mall? I can imagine the base for the thing being a very complex structure requiring millions of resources (and credits) to build -- once merchants set up tents there, the builder should probably get a small percentage of every transaction to defray his building costs (and to profit a profit incentive to build the thing in the first place).

As far as that goes, why insist on immobile space stations? Sure, that's easier to do than a moving platform... but conceptually it's not hard to imagine letting entire player cities move through space. Just strap big honkin' engines onto them! These mobile cities might be subject to certain limitations -- they can't land on a planetary surface, and they can't go into hyperspace. This would mean that they can't get away from faster ships who might intend harm to them, so they'd either have to be immune to damage (like ground-based houses), or very well-protected -- ion cannons, laser turrets, starfighters -- the works.

Of course this isn't an entirely new idea. James Blish wrote a series of four excellent books collectively titled Cities In Flight about a city -- New York, in fact -- that is cut free from the ground, equipped with faster-than-light drives, and travels around the galaxy. But even if it's been suggested before, it would still be amazing to actually play a game that includes something like this, wouldn't it?

Draconicius wrote:
This could be used as sort of an inter-stellar cantina. This would also work great with your Cargo idea.. but on a much lower scale. Only a few spaces per player could be rented on a trip. The items would be transferred into the inventory as the player leaves the ship. Not only that but the Station will only accept lvls of cargo of medium risk. Anything greater risks blowing a hole in the ship, infecting the inhabitants with a disease, cause the people in the med center to go crazy and attack, and so on. This will allow the newer players to actively take part in the space aspect of the game without feeling left out due to the lack of credits.
I like this, too. Absolutely there should be consequences if the material properties idea is implemented, and if some material isn't handled properly. Why not just tie a material's storage requirements to some kind of tariff? The more dangerous it is, the more it costs to bring it aboard for sale. (Naturally, if you can smuggle it past Customs, you won't pay any kind of fee at all... but if you're caught with it, you're in Big Trouble.)

We do probably want to be careful that only the person who doesn't handle the stuff right is penalized for it, though (otherwise it would be possible to grief other players). OTOH, it might be fun to unleash some kind of minor but general problem on an entire station/city. Maybe some kind of small, inoffensive, fuzzy lifeform that breeds prodigiously could get into everything (including the local grain stores)... hmm....

Draconicius wrote:
Another idea if this goes in is docking berths for people with starfighters... there could be mission terminals that give defense missions for the station (although escort missions ALWAYS suck), as it is just a big hunk of metal in space, but this also raises the question of what happens to the station if the defense is inadequate. Maybe the station is NOT accessible until damage control teams fix the docking bays. Exiting the station should never be a problem BUT if you are on the station and a certain amount of damage is sustained by the ship the players INSIDE should be prepared for a pirate boarding party.

Dunno if this sounds feasible... but I personally would like a mobile base to dock my personal starfighter in.
This sounds exactly right to me. Before I go too far down this road, however, I'd need to know more about how ships will land/dock in the Space Expansion. Depending on how that works, it could turn out to be easy -- or prohibitively difficult -- to allow ships to dock to mobile platforms. I note, however, that this capability is required for some starships to operate as carriers... and as we all know, your basic TIE fighter has to operate out of some kind of carrier because it has no hyperdrive. So there's a chance this "docking starfighters to a moving space platform" capability could be included in the Space Expansion.

Draconicius wrote:
will there be any threat out there that all factions (imp/reb/neutral) must band together to defeat? Like a giant space krayt dragon? 80 bazillion ham and eats Death Stars for snacks /runs in fear

Or some crazy freelancer (NPC) chooses to interdict a planet and all must try to band together to defeat him? Until the NPC is defeated or decides to leave shuttle transport can resume as normal. But if the NPC is still around only passenger ships and starfighters will be able to get to the planet. Although there is a MUCH greater chance of a pirate encounter.
That would be fun, wouldn't it? The art and programming teams would need to create appropriate resources, which might be asking a bit much for a one-shot (or even just two- or three-shot) event -- producers generally prefer to create reusable objects; you get more bang for your buck that way.

So I suspect we won't see too many unique, large-scale threats, especially of the "monster" variety. It might be possible, however, to someday bump into a really big starship. That might take some programming and "digiteer" effort, but it could reuse existing art/sound assets.

Maybe one of Jabba's competitors gets hold of a surplus ISD and tries to interdict Tatooine with it, and Rebels and Imperials have to fight side by side to bring it down -- would something like that work?

Environment and Tactics

Why doesn't the physical environment of a MMOG play a larger role in what players can (and can't) do?

I may have some more to say on this later (uh-oh!), but for now let me just focus on the kinds of things we could do in combat if the game made better use of environmental phenomena.

Combat in MMOGs is still too much governed by who's carrying the bigger stick. Why are we as gamers satisfied with that? The really interesting stuff happens when you're able to make tactical plans (and counter-plans) based on environmental factors.

Environmental factors that should (but currently don't) play a meaningful role include:

  • line-of-sight affected by:
    • weather (rain, fog, haze, etc.)
    • darkness
    • distance
    • ground/rocks
    • water
    • trees
    • structures
    • mounts
    • vehicles
    • mobs
    • NPCs
    • PCs
  • paradrop ability (death from above)
  • tunneling (death from below)
  • underwater movement (sneak attack)
  • camouflage effective against PvP foes
  • tree density in forests (should slow vehicles down more)
All these things ought to factor into combat planning and operations... but they don't. Right now "tactics" in most MMOGs is basically just deciding which of your character's special attacks to spam at an opponent. And getting "good" at combat means grinding XP so you can get a bigger stick to whack someone with.


Wouldn't it be more fun to be able to sneak up on someone, or to have to carefully plan an assault on a fortified position to make use of environmental assets, or to make the most efficient use of faction points by thoughtfully using environmental features when setting up a base, or to plan the best place to ambush an enemy column, or to need to post guards, or to be able to outwit guards, or to plan your escape if something disrupts your op?

The bottom line is that it shouldn't be just the size of the stick that determines your effectiveness, but how you use it.

(Can I say that here? ;-)

In fact, not only should there be environmental factors to visibility and movement, there ought to be various types of technology that can make use of, add to, or cut through these factors as well.

For example, suppose you've been tasked with setting some demo packs in the middle of a lightly-populated enemy campsite. The enemy has cleverly set up camp out in the middle of an open field (rather than in a forest where the trees could hide your approach), but you've elected to make your infiltration attempt at night, when visibility is lowest. Now you have a better chance of sneaking up on that enemy camp without being detected... but what about guard animals that use scent? OK, there's scent masking, that's good... but what about the sniper in the guard tower whose rifle is probably equipped with an infrared scope? Maybe there's an armor mod that can mask your infrared signature (at the cost of some protection)... but what about motion tracking sensors? Well, maybe crawling will let you sneak under their beams... but what if moving so slowly exposes you to the searchlights on that tower? Would a HALO parachute jump be a better option?

Let's try another example. You and your team are driving your vehicles back to you HQ after a long session; you're low on powerups and stims, and your healer has just logged out. Suddenly dozens of laser bolts arc toward your team from behind the bushes and trees -- it's an ambush! What do you do? You can try to run, but they can run too, and they'll pick you off from behind by massing their fire on each of you one at a time. Would you like to be able to block LOS by popping smoke grenades? What if there were "caltrop grenades" -- little disposable robots you could drop whose function was to run toward an enemy vehicle and explode? What if you could duck behind other trees, or put away your vehicle and equip a rebreather that let you dive into the deep part of a nearby lake? Do you think having these options might increase your odds of surviving?

You get the idea. Allowing a meaningful set of environmental factors to alter visibility and movement options dramatically enhances the player's ability to make interesting combat choices. Adding such factors will definitely complicate the physics of the game, and that's a technical challenge... but it's one worth taking on for the major payoff in enjoyment provided.

Friday, April 9, 2004

SWG: Hero NPCs and Factional Gameplay

How can Hero NPCs best be used in a game where all the players want to be heroes, too?

On the one hand, you've got individual players who in many cases want to be Luke Skywalker -- they want to do things in the Star Wars universe that matter. They want to play a meaningful role in an epic story.

On the other hand... you've got many other individual players who all want to be Luke Skywalker, too! How in the world do you create a multiplayer game that satisfies all these people? They can't all be heroes of the Rebellion or the Empire!

...or can they?

To be successful over the long haul, SWG has to be constructed to give the individual player just enough freedom to have some impact in the game world, but not enough to prevent other players from having similar impact based on their own actions. To achieve this goal requires thinking like an individual player to understand what they want... but that's not enough. For a player to feel his actions have meaning -- that he's not just grinding -- the local effects of a player's actions have to have some cumulative global effect that the player can see. And that requires a different kind of design thought process.

The bottom-up individualistic viewpoint is important, and it's enough to satisfy the adrenaline junkies over the short term. But for a satisfying long-term gameplay experience, someone has to have spent some time integrating the individual game features from a top-down strategic viewpoint. The parts have to fit together to create a unique and unpredictable (but acceptable) whole. To put it another way, it's necessary for local effects to accumulate to some important global result, because that result filtering back down to the individual player is what proves to him that his actions have meaning.

There are obvious and subtle ways to accomplish this, but they all hinge on some designer having thought about how individual actions add up, and on some developer actually implementing features to sum up actions and reflect the resultant back to individual players.

Let's assume for the sake of this discussion that we have or can easily get the first part of this equation -- that what you and everyone else does is being watched and remembered and adds up to something that affects the course of the Galactic Civil War. OK, what then?

I'll offer two examples to give you the flavor of what is possible, and what we might aspire to having in SWG.

1. The Empire

You are a faithful servant of the Empire. You've mastered one or two combat professions, and exterminated countless Rebel scum in your progress through the ranks. In fact, you just earned enough faction points to buy the rank of Captain.

When other players you know have earned this rank, they've received the usual message. But something different happens this time -- you get a "loading" screen. Suddenly you find yourself in a shadowed (instanced) audience chamber... and you hear the labored panting of someone using a breathing regulator.

"Congratulations, Captain," you hear Lord Vader say from somewhere in the gloom. "I have been watching your progress with interest. Your rise through the ranks has been swift, and the Emperor appreciates your efforts on his behalf."

Without warning, Darth Vader looms out of the darkness before you. You sense a malign strength that could crush the life from you with a thought.

"But do not think, Captain, that your promotion entitles you to a life of ease. From those to whom the Emperor has granted authority, much is expected. You must do more to crush the Rebellion to prove your worthiness to wear this insignia."

The system dings, and you see a spatial message, "You have been awarded the Order of the Scarlet Robe, Second Class badge."

As Vader fades back into the shadows, he says, "Do not fail me, Captain. I will be watching...."

After another loading screen, you find yourself back where you were before your audience with Darth Vader... only now you're sporting a set of captain's bars and a shiny new badge.

Do you think this would help you feel like a valued soldier of the Empire, and motivate you to look for more ways to serve the Empire?

2. The Rebellion

You're a humble crafter who sympathizes with the Rebellion, but while you've signed up with a Rebel recruiter you just can't bring yourself to support the Rebellion overtly. After all, you've got a business to run.

But as time goes by, you notice that the buildings around your shop start to have Imperial symbols on them. And there seem to be a lot more stormtroopers hassling you. And your business has fallen off; you're not making as many sales as you used to, even though your products have improved.

One day you're contentedly tinkering away on a vehicle when the front door of your shop opens. In walks a customer who exudes an attitude of competence and authority, and he strides directly up to you.

"We need to talk," he says. "I'm Wedge Antilles, in charge of the resistance in this area. I know you support us; I've talked to our recruiter... but what I don't understand is why you're helping the Empire!"

He gestures forcefully, obviously upset. "Our Bothan spies -- don't bother looking around, you'll never spot them -- tell us that you're selling a lot of equipment to Imperials. In fact, you've done so well for them that we're actually losing the war in this area."

Wedge glares at you. "We can't afford to have an Imperial sympathizer in our ranks. So I'm going to make it easy for you: you have a choice."

"One," he says. "You can close up your shop here and move somewhere else where you can make your equipment for our cause. Or two... you can lose your status as one of us. If you're going to help the Empire, we don't need you."

Wedge adjusts his jacket as he prepares to leave. "I'll give you a week to decide. If your shop is still here by then, you'll return to being neutral in this conflict."

He looks you in the eye one last time. "We need you. You're a capable crafter, and I believe you understand what we're fighting for. I hope you'll do the right thing."

And he turns and walks out the door.

Do you think this would give you a greater sense of your value in the game as a whole, and possibly even persuade you to take a more active role in the GCW?

Obvious and subtle. Subtle in that small actions add up to meaningful results that are reflected in the game environment, and obvious in that the sum of a player's actions are occasionally reflected back to that player in a memorable way.

A game like that -- where today's actions have consequences tomorrow -- could last a long time.

Wednesday, April 7, 2004

SWG: Jump to Lightspeed: Space Commerce

One of the strongest threads running through all the Star Wars movies is the continuous bustle of commerce. Even while great events take place, people are still trying to live their lives and make a credit or two. Whether moisture farmers, junk dealers, smugglers, bounty hunters, clone breeders, droid manufacturers, or members of a cantina band, there's a whole world of commercial activity constantly operating behind the scenes (and sometimes right up front!).

This great variety in what people do -- from the little guy to the hero -- is part of the richness of Star Wars. SWG does a good job of reflecting this part of the saga by offering lots of professions that aren't just about swashbuckling, and by making these more commercial activities an integral part of the game.

Obviously a lot of folks are looking forward to the Space Expansion in terms of its similarity to Star Wars: X-wing vs. TIE Fighter. That's fine; this opens up the Space Expansion to the heroic aspect of Star Wars, and that's important... but what about the opportunities for commercial activity? How can the Space Expansion support the regular folks over whom the GCW is being fought but who aren't directly involved in that conflict because they're out making a living?


The simplest option will be to add new NPC missions that take players into space. As with ground-based missions, purely commercial missions will probably come in three forms:

  • skills-based missions
  • "open" missions
  • space-based factional missions (as these aren't primarily commercial I don't discuss them here)
A. Skill-Based Missions

Some missions are given based on a player's skills. For example, a player with crafting skills might be offered a mission to build replacement hull plating for an orbiting ISD, or a mining droid for an NPC on a space station in an asteroid belt.

A variant of this could be a Repair mission. In this mission type, you could (for example) be asked to travel to some NPC starship to fix some broken system. "Captain Znarxes doesn't have anyone aboard who can repair his hyperspace motivator. Take your repair kit and get out there now." (Of course crafters will need to have a Repair skill for this to work. Ahem.)

Other types of skills-related missions could be Survey missions ("I need a good source of Zagallik Crystalline Gemstone in the Tharpid Nebula -- find me one over 64% and I'll make it worth your while"), Destroy missions ("Those cursed mynock are destroying the power cables of this station! Get rid of them for me and you'll be well rewarded."), and Entertain missions ("That's it! You're exactly what I need for my new act! Get over to the Rassid Space Colony -- I'll put the waypoint in your datapad -- and play one of your songs for my old friend Hessalian. You'll be great!")

B. "Open" Missions

These are missions that anyone can take. The most common type of open mission is the Delivery mission, where you're asked to carry some object to an NPC at some distant location. The Space Expansion may include some new planets, but the really interesting new missions will be the ones whose endpoint is somewhere in space.

Maybe the target NPC is on a space station. Even more interesting, suppose the target is on board a starship? "Captain Teekul is expecting delivery of these maps. You can find her on board her ship, the Nasturtium, currently in orbit over Mos Eisley on Tatooine. Get going."

Other types of open missions include the usual Escort and Recon missions. The Space Expansion variants of these could mean leading a crippled ship through a pirate-infested area, or visiting the heart of a dense asteroid field to see who's hiding there.

Finally, if the Space Expansion implements multi-person ships, a new type of mission could be possible: the Transport Mission. This would allow NPCs to pay you to take them to other places. If the NPC automatically exits (and pays you) the moment you land, then I don't see much room for griefing this feature.


"Freight" is the name for goods that someone else owns but which you carry. A freighter is thus a ship whose primary purpose is carrying someone else's stuff from one place to another -- sort of like UPS or FedEx in space.

This is a standard kind of space commerce in science fiction, and it wouldn't hurt to have it as a form of economic activity in SWG since it's easy money. But to be perfectly honest... it's sort of boring. I wouldn't holler if it wasn't part of the initial launch of the Space Expansion.

(Note: Item delivery doesn't really need to be part of the Space Expansion, anyway. This would be better implemented using a Player Contracts system.)


"Cargo" is the name for goods that you actually own that you buy in one place and ship to another place in the speculative hope of turning a profit on the deal.

This is where the Space Expansion could really shine in terms of commercial activity. Space trading games have been seen in all kinds of games, from tabletop RPGs like MegaTraveller to computer games like Freelancer, but they all have several features in common:

  • multiple types of goods that have different costs and storage requirements
  • multiple locations that offer some goods and want other goods
  • dynamic pricing (some items are more in demand than others, and this changes)
To some extent, SWG already has most of these features in place. There are several features the Space Expansion could implement that would make these existing commercial features more meaningful:

  • allow some ships to have large cargo spaces
  • products should have specific handling requirements based on their attributes
  • NPCs in cities should occasionally offer missions to address "shortages"
A. Cargo Spaces

The most important part of a commercial game is a dynamic player economy that springs up to address an excess demand in one place by transferring an excess supply from some other place, and to make a profit in the exchange. In SWG, any crafter anywhere can build anything locally. So dynamic markets in SWG mostly amount to moving good resources from one planet where they're spawning to another planet where they aren't.

When Naboo or Tatooine isn't producing a non-ferrous metal with a decent Shock Resistance rating, Master Artisans on those planets who run out of stockpiled resources can't craft high-quality vehicles. But if Corellia or Dantooine does have such resources, it might be cost-effective to buy them from someone who's importing them.

Right now that import business is a tough one to be in. Not only do you have to have enough sales to recover the money you spend traveling from one planet to another, not only will you spend a lot of time traveling and sampling, but the 10-lot limit places a serious restriction on whether you can harvest a broad enough spectrum of resources to be sure of always having something worth selling. (The more gregarious players will "borrow" lots from other players, but not every player is comfortable with making such arrangements.)

The final difficulty is only being able to carry around 120 or so items (and that's if you carry droids with storage compartments). That may seem like a lot, but consider that you can have possibly 30 or 40 different types of resources per planet. Since you need to keep track of these somehow to avoid re-sampling, your choices are either to write down all the attribute values of every resource from every planet to keep track of what's current everywhere (not an attractive proposition), or keep a small sample of every current resource in your inventory. The latter chews up inventory space like crazy, but even so it's easier than writing the relevant information down. But it can only be done for one (or possibly two) planets before you run out of inventory slots.

The Space Expansion really becomes useful if some ships are able to carry many more items -- say, 250 or so. At that point, the Space Expansion starts to really mean something for commercial activity because it will support what people actually want to do -- keep track of current resources.

Note: Even better would be to have a good in-game way to store samples of current resources and their attributes (a more specific way than just a general notebook). In this case, fewer ship cargo spaces would be necessary for simply storing samples; they could instead be used for actually hauling meaningful quantities of materials.

B. Materials Handling Characteristics

Different types of objects should have different characteristics that require different transport mechanisms. This is an extra bit of "realism" that has a big payoff in making the cargo game more interesting.

If all materials have the same handling characteristics, then the cargo game is little more than freight hauling with a little more profit. But when different types of materials have different transport costs due to handling requirements, that adds an interesting wrinkle to the calculations of what will make a good profit from what won't... and that's exactly what makes a commercial game fun.

Transporting inert Inorganics (Metals, Inert Gases) should be simple and cheap. But moving reactive Inorganics (Reactive Gases, Radioactives) might call for special handling, such as Lead Containers or Magnetic Containment Vessels. These would be available from Artisans -- at a price, of course. To make it even more fun, materials might be classified as Low Risk, Medium Risk, and High Risk, and the appropriate containers for that type of material might require a container capable of mitigating that risk level. For example, a Radioactive with a Potential Energy value above 667 might be classified as a High Risk material, and would require a container crafted to include a Lead Shielding Level 3 component.

Some Organics (Flora, Hides, Meats, animal DNA) should break down and be slowly lost unless stored in pressurized and temperature-controlled containers (again, these could simply be optional components of a new Cargo Container object). Other Organics (firearms, grenades, mines, pharmaceuticals) might be hazardous in various additional ways. (And of course transporting live NPCs or PCs should require passenger berths, but more on that below.)

Other kinds of designations for items (items should be classifiable into multiple categories) could be Contraband (spices, some weapons, factional plans/orders), Valuables (artwork, cut gems, currency), and Information (bulk mail [from NPC missions], schematics, waypoints).

C. Shortages

One of the biggest draws to playing a commercial game is the belief that one day you'll strike oil. What makes the daily grind endurable is feeling that one day you'll get rich by being in the right place at the right time with the right product. (The real secret, of course, is just hard work over a long time and investing smartly, but it's the belief in "get-rich-quick" schemes that keeps many people playing the commercial game.)

SWG's dynamic resource generation system one of the necessary pieces for encouraging this belief in players. (This feature is actually one of the unsung heroes of SWG -- it's crucial for the existing commercial game and for the SWG economy generally, but it hasn't anywhere near the praise it deserves for what it contributes to the game.) What would improve this system for commerce in the era of the Space Expansion would be occasional "disasters" based around NPC cities.

You wouldn't want to impose negative events (even notionally) on player cities, since some players would feel picked on if their city appeared to suffer in any way compared to other cities. But suppose one day some number of the NPCs standing around in Kor Vella started complaining of a disease infecting the local farms which only Rorian Wild Wheat had the right nutrients to cure. If these NPCs for one day offered missions to bring back 1000 units of this resource, paying 10,000 credits and +50 "Townspeople" faction on delivery would spur a burst of commercial space traffic to import this resource to meet the brief local demand. Similar stories could be generated to explain needs for various other kinds of resources in different places.

There could be interesting variations on this. One modification would be to more closely tie such events in with other aspects of the Space Expansion. Since we know virtually nothing about the Space Expansion at this date (*cough*hint*cough*), it's hard to speculate on exact mechanisms. But perhaps at the same time as some resource becomes in demand in certain cities, Hutt- or other criminally-factioned ships appear in the skies above that planet offering higher prices (and perhaps appropriate faction points) for that resource. Players would have to decide whether to make a fast buck, or whether helping out farmers was more ethically satisfying. (This decision might even be worth a few Dark Side or Light Side points if you're a Jedi.) Or maybe the resources are interdicted in some way, and only a player with good Piloting or Smuggling skills can successfully move the resources through Customs.

Another potential improvement would be to tie temporary demands in with the GCW. Maybe several Rebel bases spawn outside Moenia, each with a Captain asking for 1000 units of Seafah Crystalline Gemstone with an Entanglement Resistance above 700 (which has been chosen in part because none is currently available on Naboo). In return for 1000 resources, she'll pay 15,000 credits and +50 Rebel faction. At the same time, the Imperial presence above Naboo is intensified somewhat, and (assuming the Space Expansion allows this) random searches of ships above Naboo are conducted more frequently for the presence of this material.

And this just assumes the existence in the Space Expansion of the current planets/moons. What if there are new planets with unique resources? What if we can mine asteroids? The creation of new places to explore also offers the opportunity to add new kinds of resources to the current crop -- perhaps things like different products keyed to specific dangerous creatures ("Organic, Creature, Bile, Sarlacc") -- getting 1000 units of that might be a real challenge!

Overall, the point is to have brief, localized "shortages" of a particular resource. Players who discover this need would be able to profit; those who don't but who hear about events like this would be encouraged to participate in commerce in the hopes of big, fast profits. Result: more fun.


"Passengers" is the name for -- well, for passengers.

If the Space Expansion allows some ships to carry multiple players (in the same way that multiple players can be inside a house simultaneously), then the bare necessities for passenger service will be in place. This would at least allow informal travel arrangements. ("Give me 10,000 credits and I'll take you to any NPC city on Tatooine." "We'll give you 2000 now... plus another 15,000 when we reach Mos Espa.")

But suppose I take your money, then I land on Dathomir and /eject you from my ship? In an informal system, this is all too possible. To avoid ripping off potential travelers, it may be necessary to tweak the travel system somewhat in this way: If you take someone on board your ship as a paying passenger, then they get to set your destination (unless some other passenger has already set your ship's destination, in which case you'd have the option of going there or getting your money back and waiting for another ship). When you launch and go into hyperspace, you go directly to that destination. And when you reach that destination, the moment you exit the ship your money is credited to the ship's owner.

This system would allow potential passengers to travel with some assurance that the ship owner wouldn't be able to leave them stranded on some dangerous planet. Bad things might still happen -- there could be a hyperspace malfunction, or pirates might catch you, or if your captain is factioned your ship might be attacked by a ship of another faction. But these things would typically hurt the ship captain, too, so he or she would be motivated to bring passengers safely to their destination.

(Note: Secure travel arrangements could also be made through a Player Contracts system.)

Assuming passenger service is possible, one interesting Space Expansion feature might be the ability to fit ships with passenger staterooms. There could be several levels of quality, from Efficiency (it's just a small room with no windows) to Standard (a decent-sized, one-porthole room with a few amenities that will let you drop up to five small inanimate items) to Luxury (a large, lavishly-appointed room with picture windows that will let you drop up to 20 medium-sized inanimate items). How cool would it be if a player could own a line of large passenger ships equipped with numerous luxury staterooms? Naturally passengers will be charged appropriately for traveling in such opulence....

The notion of staterooms into which passengers can drop items brings up the question of whether larger ships might be able to function as residences, or as city or PA halls. If you're a paying passenger in a Standard or Luxury stateroom, then paying your money should cause one stateroom aboard that ship to grant you (and only you) admin permissions. You should be able to drop items in that room (but nowhere else), and no one else (including the ship owner or pilot) should have access to that room or to those items without your permission.

The one tricky issue is what happens when you land at your destination. When you land and exit the ship, your access rights to your stateroom must be revoked... but what if you leave the ship with items still in "your" stateroom? The only thing I can think is that you should be prevented from leaving any ship while items you own aren't carried on your person. If you try, you'll be given a pop-up window asking you if you want to give up all items in your stateroom -- this would give you a chance to go back to your stateroom and collect your possessions, after which you'd be able to leave freely.


Obviously the Space Expansion should support smuggling!

Imperial patrol ships in space should harass players just as stormtroopers do in cantinas. If you wind up near Imperial ships, you'll risk being pulled over by a very well-armed Imperial patrol ship and searched for contraband. "Honest" merchants will just be verbally assaulted, but smugglers found to be carrying proscribed goods (weapons, spice, or anything Rebel-factioned) who fail a random check will have some of their goods confiscated and may be attacked, as will any ship that tries to run from a search. (How fast you can jump to hyperspace could be an interesting factor here!) As with the ground game, ships controlled by Imperials could be immune to search-and-seizure.

Naturally we'll want to be able to craft ships with "secret compartments" for hiding a few goodies that not everyone needs to know about -- a five-item container should work. These compartments would be subject to being scanned; if such a compartment is detected, then your ship would be subject to search. If something is found, then you're subject to the consequences.
The other part of this is that Smuggling skills should be augmented to improve a ship's resistance to scans. (Ships might also be built with scan-resistant technology... at a much higher price.)

There's also the ground game to consider. We don't yet know how the Space Expansion will handle landing ships, however, so it's hard to speculate usefully on this now. However, if there's anything like "landing" at all, then it should be possible to have something like Customs, in which case this is also a point at which your ship might be subject to search.

A final possibility for Smugglers in the Space Expansion will be hiring their specially equipped ships to smuggle cargo for other characters. The most obvious way to do this will be as a mission taken from an NPC, so hopefully this feature (as noted above) will be implemented along with the Space Expansion. But it would also be a lot of fun for players to be able to use Smugglers. Maybe a Rebel city on Lok needs a shipment of crates of ranged weapon powerups. Maybe a neutral city on Rori thinks there's big money to be made selling spice, but is low on product. If Player Contracts were available (I know, I just can't shut up about this ), players could make these kinds of Smuggling deals and countless others.


Many people have expressed a strong interest in Space Expansion features that would make some form of space piracy possible. Since there are economic ramifications, we should talk briefly about piracy here.

Piracy in SWG boils down to two questions:

1. Can characters on Ship A board Ship B against the will of Ship B's crew or passengers?
2. Can characters who board a ship take that ship or loot any of the stuff on that ship?

A. Boarding

The first question of piracy concerns boarding. And the first question of boarding is docking.
If we want piracy, docking has to be possible. But to prevent it from being used inappropriately, it also needs to follow PvP rules. I'd like to see these requirements implemented through a /dock command whose success or failure is determined in two steps:

  • faction
  • consent
First of all, ships of different faction don't need consent to board each other. Based on what we currently believe to be true, military ships can be considered to have a "faction" since they can only be purchased by spending faction points. (Note that this appears to exclude "uglies.") However, if it's also possible to have armed non-military ships, then the faction of these ships should be taken from the faction of the owner (or the pilot if the pilot isn't the owner).

Given these rules, ships of different faction should always be able to dock with each other; no consent should be required. If I'm commanding an Imperial ship and you're Rebel scum (or if criminal faction is ever implemented and either of us has it), and if I can destroy or disable your engines to keep you from running, then I should be be able to dock my ship to yours and board you whether you like it or not -- it's part of the risk you run by being overtly factioned in space.

(It should be noted that in the case of Rebel vs. Imperial or vice versa, neither would be acting as a pirate by boarding the other's ship; that would just be an extension of other military action. Only non-military ships not of Rebel or Imperial faction can technically be pirates -- a Rebel/Imperial factioned non-military ship that attacks a ship of the other faction is more correctly considered a "privateer." Privateers won't exist if only military ships may be Rebel or Imperial factioned in the Space Expansion. We'll just have to see.)

Non-factioned use of /dock should require that the target of the /dock request give consent to be docked to. This should hold whether the target is another ship, or a space station, or a landing facility. If the target of a /dock request is neutral, then that target must explicitly consent to being docked to. If players could also choose who could board their ship, this would eliminate most if not all potential for forcing player characters to defend their lives and their ships from player pirates.

If it's possible for NPC pirates to dock to our ships then I hope we'll see some features that allow us to defend our ship when it's boarded. Internal security, chain of command, automated defenses, Space Marines(?), and of course a self-destruct capability -- all these are features that would give the defender a fighting chance. Naturally NPCs should have these features on their ships as well, to defend against evil player pirates.

It would be a hoot if the Blas-Tech Plasma Cut Boarding Device were available. (Remember how the Empire boarded Leia's "diplomatic ship" at the start of the original Star Wars?) But there's one thing I definitely want to see if my ship is boarded: I want to be able to hit the button that turns on the "Intruder Alert" klaxon and flashing red lights all over my ship....

B. Looting

The other big question is whether we'll be allowed to take stuff from defeated ships, or possibly even take ships themselves as prizes. My guess is that no, this won't be part of the Space Expansion... unless it's an NPC ship.

Looting may simply not be permitted if the target ship is PC-controlled. Even in PvP duels the victor doesn't get to take any of the loser's stuff (although that's exactly how it worked in medieval jousts, and how I think it should work in SWG to really make dueling interesting). The developers have chosen not to allow the victors of PvP ground combat to loot the corpses of those who lose, and I don't expect that they'll choose to allow this in space.

Piracy of PC ships by PCs may be limited to the faction points you can earn by destroying enemy ships and killing their (factioned) crew; piracy of PC ships by NPCs may be limited to killing the crew. But it might still be possible for players to earn reputations as "pirates"... as long as they're satisfied with targeting NPC ships. You should probably be able to take stuff from the cargo holds of captured ships in addition to whatever you found on the bodies of your victims. And if you could take NPC ships as prizes, that would make victory even sweeter. Given the likely cost of ships, it would certainly be an economic advantage... and the financial aspect of piracy is why we're talking about it at all here.

C. Other Features

A "command" system for operating a starship would add to the roleplaying part of the game, but it would also help protect ships from pirates. When someone first creates a ship from its deed, he takes on the additional role of "captain" with access to all ship functions (direction control, fire control, etc.). He can then designate another player as "second-in-command," who has access to some subset of ship functions. Should the captain be killed or exit the game, the second-in-command becomes captain and can then designate another player as second-in-command, and so on. (If the owner logs back in, he's automatically captain again as soon as he boards the ship.)

A ship's captain (regular or acting) would have access to various commands that other players aboard the ship wouldn't have, such as the option to allow firing on another vessel, the ability to name another second-in-command, and the always popular self-destruct feature. (Allowing a random passenger to accidentally blow your ship out of space would probably not be a popular feature.)

This command concept would make piracy a more interesting challenge. A well-defined command structure would prevent a ship from being captured as long as there was a captain who refused to surrender. ("/surrender [playername]", which would cede ownership of one's current vehicle to another player, should be a command available to any vehicle owner/captain.) Pirates would thus have to destroy the chain of command before they could loot (or possibly take possession of) a boarded ship.

Finally, please note that all these rules apply whether only NPCs can be pirates or whether player characters are allowed to be pirates as well. NPC pirates should be able to board ships that have allowed them to dock (or been forced by faction to allow them to dock); this should open their ships up to being boarded as well (and possibly even captured as prizes). PC pirates may not be subject to having their ships seized, and PCs boarded by pirates may not lose their ships, but some amount of goods should be up for grabs either way to make things interesting.

I'd like to add at this point that I hope there will at least be NPC pirate ships who try to prey on innocent-looking merchant ships, because this will open up one of the most thrilling of enterprises, and one of the most entertaining of all nautical story devices: the fake merchant ship.

Back in the glory days of piracy in the Age of Sail, a particularly bad run of piracy in an area might lead to nearby military ships disguising themselves as wallowing merchanters. When the pirate moved in for the kill, the "merchanter" would cast off her disguise and open fire. Not only did this actually happen, the suspense -- will the ruse work? will the pirate run, or open fire? -- made it a natural plot device for swashbuckling stories. The recent movie Master and Commander (adapted from Patrick O'Brian's novel) is a good example, but when George Lucas revealed the Millennium Falcon's concealed nose cannon (as seen near the start of SW:ESB), he was after a similar effect.

Another real-life example of this stratagem occurred during World War I, when the new German U-boats were tearing through the merchant shipping on which Britain's survival depended. The problem became so acute that the British Navy actually commissioned an operation to add hidden weapons to small merchant ships. These "Q-ships," built from trawlers, schooners, and cargo ships, disguised their new weapons with false steam funnels, dummy lifeboats, awnings, and even paint jobs. The Q-boats were designed to lure the U-boats into showing themselves, then destroying them with their hidden weaponry.

It doesn't always work. By the end of WWI, the score was 193 Q-ships built, 15 U-boats destroyed... and 44 Q-ships lost. But those numbers don't count the number of U-boats damaged or which failed to attack merchant ships for fear that they were more deadly than they appeared.

Sometimes just the effort can inspire. If the Space Expansion can allow this kind of play, it will achieve something worthwhile.


One proposal I saw floated a while back that seemed really clever to me was the notion of "spacelanes." Direct routes between major planets would be safe from piracy, but would offer the lowest-paying freight missions. Indirect routes between minor planets and moons are somewhat less safe but offer better-paying freight missions. And everything else is risky but offers the highest payments for freight missions.

"Safety" in this system is provided in a couple of ways. First, direct routes are marked by buoys; the game simply doesn't permit piracy or "monster" attacks within these areas. Indirect routes aren't marked, but are patrolled by randomly-spawning Imperial cruisers (in much the same way that groups of stormtroopers spawn now for the Imperial Crackdown). If a "Pirate Flag" or "Pirate" faction points are assigned to any non-factioned ship that attacks another, then any Imperial patrol ships that detect a "pirate" will immediately attack it. Likewise, patrol cruisers will attack any mobs they find along these indirect routes.

These Imperial patrol ships -- since they are Imperial-factioned -- should be open to attack by Rebel-factioned players. However, it should be noted that destroying Imperial protection would leave this area of space vulnerable to monsters and pirates... something that merchant vessels will not appreciate. Long-term this could and should reduce player support for the Rebellion in this area, but if it happens too readily it might prove necessary to add an in-game feature that increases the risks of attacking Imperial patrolcraft -- maybe they're given the ability to call in rapid reinforcements.

This "spacelane" approach gives the player the choice of risk vs. reward based on his voluntary actions without explicitly making a artificial in-game distinction between PvE and PvP play. And of course we're just talking about freight missions here -- it should always be possible for players to buy items on Planet A for transport to Planet B to sell at a profit. (This is the distinction between "freight" -- hauling something for someone else for a predetermined delivery fee -- and "cargo" -- hauling goods you buy in one place to sell somewhere else on a speculative basis.) A spacelane approach works just as well for cargo-hauling as for freight-hauling without requiring a separate system of mission terminals.


Between missions, freight, cargo, passengers, smuggling, and piracy, the Space Expansion could offer players numerous opportunities to expand their commercial operations. What will make all these new opportunities work together well will be if the Space Expansion also includes features that allow players to think of themselves as "citizens of the galaxy" rather than natives of any particular planet. (NPCs are the "natives" -- players need to be free to be roaming heroes.)

For example, the Bazaar currently allows players to see item listings from all locations on all planets. This is excellent (although the interface -- the sorting function in particular -- still desperately needs improvement), but it could be enhanced to better support interplanetary commerce. What if you could place orders to buy certain items and resources instead of just making offers to sell? What if you could buy and sell from your ship when it's berthed?

How about having a Space Mission terminal aboard your ship? Starfighters could take Destroy missions, freighters could take Deliver missions, and so on.

What if merchants needed to travel in convoys -- if you own a starfighter, would you agree to provide protection if there was a way to be sure you'd be paid (and were allowed to keep any loot you take from attackers)?

For you would-be Space Rangers: Suppose it was possible to explore the galaxy to find new places, but trying to find new hyperspace routes was incredibly risky -- would a big finder's fee persuade you to try this? Or would the excitement be enough? What if you were allowed to uniquely name places you found?

Finally, how about a crafthall? Not a PA, but an organization necessary for building large, complex objects (like capital ships) that allowed a controlled distribution of effort and of rewards? Even better, what if we could create our own hierarchical organizations, complete with ranks and titles? A multi-person business syndicate that owns ships and runs freight and cargo operations could allow players to have all their shipping needs handled by a known corporate entity (including those little exchanges that the Empire doesn't need to know about, wink-wink).

The Space Expansion could be the greatest force for economic activity in the galaxy since the invention of hyperspace... if the developers know that this is what you, the player, want.